(WARNING: The following post contains a plethora of quotation marks.)*
I was reading a friend’s social media page recently and saw that so-and-so was “an amazingly sexual creature.”
Lifestyle magazines tell readers to “embrace your sexuality.”
Critics of political lesbianism*, from the they’re-really-just-celibate-straights corner, are concerned that poli-lez perpetuates the idea that “lesbians don’t have sex.”
What I am wondering is what people even mean when they use words like “sex” and “sexual” and “sexuality.” When I do a definition search, I get a somewhat circular scramble leading from/to intercourse, reproduction, gametes, eroticism, libido, desire. To complicate it all for radical feminists, what most people mean by “sex” is PIV, which makes sense if derived from “sexual intercourse”/”sexual reproduction”, but then “lesbians have sex too!” and “you don’t need a penis to have sex!” What is it to “have sex”? I mean, apparently you can “have sex” with yourself or with inanimate objects. If the only thing that brings me to orgasm is watching grey squirrels leap from limb to limb through fall foliage, could I be said to be “having sex” while watching said leaping? If the only thing that turns a man on is watching/visualizing a woman being murdered, could he be said to be “having sex” while watching such a tragic scene? Why does a “healthy relationship” require “having sex” regularly?
What is the commonality? Is genital arousal (measured by increased blood flow) the marker of a “sexual experience”? Well that gets complicated when undesirable stimuli turn us on, and our mental “sexual arousal” does not match our genital arousal. Is it then personally defined in the mind? When my lover rubs my back while feeding me starfruit and quoting Emily Dickinson, and I find it the most desirable and bonding experience in the world, is this sexual desire? Where is the “sexual” in it? Must a “sexual” experience necessarily involve genital contact? If yes, then where does “sexual attraction” (or other non-contact experiences) fit in? Did “sex” “not really happen” if someone didn’t orgasm?
OK. I’m being a bit foggy here. What I’m trying to get at is the essence of “sexuality” or “sex.” My mind has been turning, and it comes up with theories. Perhaps in times past, “sex” WAS shorthand for “sexual intercourse” (PIV). Male-female couples therefore had “sex.” Because PIV is a marker of ownership/romance/success/love/marriage/religiosity/whatever, that is, because PIV is THE IMPORTANT EVENT in whatever cultural element you’re talking about, and because PIV=”sex”, then people who don’t PIV, wanting to claim morality/success/love/whatever also, decide that certain non-PIV acts are also “sex.” Now “we are just as good/healthy/successful/loving/whatever as those PIVers.” Then “sex” starts to function as a floating signifier, meaning godknowswhat but everyone pretends we’re all talking about the same thing.
So when PIV-centric people say lesbians don’t have “sex,” they are 100% correct because lesbians are not PIVing. So why should lesbians get offended and try to convince the PIV-centrics that “oh no, lesbians really do have ‘sex'”? What is the essence of what they/we are trying to claim in claiming “sex”? What are we losing if we don’t?
Why is it so *crucial* that a lesbian be “actually” “sexually” attracted to women, as opposed to “merely” feeling “special friendship”? What is so shitty and inferior about having an overwhelming fondness and respect? What is so superior about having a genital response/enjoyment of nudity/PIV-reenactment/possessive tendencies/whatever people are defining as “sexual”?
Or what about the cultural agreement that “men have big sex drives and men are also great” whereas “women have no sex drives and women also suck”? And then women are like “Wait no women are great too! We have sex drives! We’ll prove it by fucking everyone! See! Sexual beings! Therefore women are great!”
If anyone has ideas, please tell me. This all comes in context of the political lesbian** debate, and (1) I honestly do not know what the fuck women (pro- and anti-) mean when they say “sexually attracted to women.” And (2) I am questioning whether the whole idea of “sex” and “sexuality” is not really derived from heterosexuality/PIV.
*(This is totally a ramble. I am not pretending to be coherent here. Maybe I will try to develop this more later, and maybe I will not.)
**(I get that there is a big difference between growing up afraid that people will find out you are an immoral freak and then beat you up, and growing up without that fear.)
Edit: Oh thank goodness. Sonia Johnson has already thought about this stuff. I will just have to finish reading The Ship That Sailed Into the Living Room.